Thursday, May 25, 2023

A Brief History of Blue Jeans

by Jennifer Uhlarik


Like many people, most of my life, I have worn blue jeans. They are a favorite garment of mine—relaxed and comfortable, yet durable too. How about you? Have you ever wondered where the blue jeans we love first got their start? 


Levi Strauss

If you want to trace the blue jean back to its roots, you’ll need to go to Buttenheim, Bavaria in February of 1829. It was here that Hirsch and Rebecca Strauss welcomed their seventh child, Levi, to their flock. Levi spent his first eighteen years there, even while several of his older siblings emigrated to America. However, in 1846, family patriarch Hirsch Strauss succumbed to tuberculosis, and Rebecca, two of the Strauss sisters, and Levi, packed up and followed the family to New York.

Strauss with other members of his extended family

Jonas and Louis Strauss were an industrious pair who created a booming wholesale dry goods business in the heart of Manhattan. The J. Strauss Brother & Co. store provided all manner of “dry goods”—i.e. anything from dry grocery items like flour, sugar, coffee, and tobacco, to sewing supplies, to cookware and utensils, and even some premade clothing. Upon his arrival in New York, Levi began learning the family business and often worked as an itinerant peddler of goods from the family store.

Levi Strauss & Co. storefront, San Francisco


In 1849, gold was discovered in California, and droves of starry-eyed people set out for the western coast of the continent. By the early 1850s, the Strauss family realized the gold rush wasn’t just a flash in the pan, so it was decided they would expand their store to California, and Levi would be the one to open the new location. In 1854, he arrived in San Francisco and set up shop, importing quality goods from his brothers, items like clothing, bedding, combs, and handkerchiefs, among other things. He also made tents, blankets, and wagon covers.

Jacob Davis

The same year that Levi Strauss set up shop in San Francisco, Latvian-born immigrant Jacob Davis came to America, landing in New York, and across the next thirteen years, moved around the United States and Canada. But by 1867, the Latvian tailor finally returned to San Francisco, and eventually settled in Reno, Nevada, where he set up a tailor shop. He bought many of his supplies, including the heavy-duty cotton duck cloth and cotton denim, from the San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. store.


Diagram from
Patent Application

It was in 1871 that Davis contacted Strauss with an idea. Jacob had found an improvement on the heavy-duty pants he’d been sewing for woodcutters and railroad workers. He found that adding a copper rivet at the corners of the pockets and other high-stress points in the garment, they held up better. But he couldn’t keep up with the demand for the reinforced garments. Realizing the boon he had created, he set out to file for a patent—a somewhat costly prospect for a tailor. So he contacted his sewing supplier, Levi Strauss, to see if he might help with the application filing fee. Strauss agreed, and in 1872, the pair requested the patent for the riveted “waist overalls”. The patent came through on May 20, 1873.


Strauss moved Davis to San Francisco to oversee the new manufacturing facility of these waist overalls. At first, the manufacturing was nothing more than seamstresses producing quantities of the garments in their homes, but as word got out about the quality workwear, Strauss opened an actual factory for the garment.


Strauss lived to be seventy-three, and upon his death, he left the Levi Strauss & Co. business to his four nephews—Jacob, Louis, Sigmund, and Abraham, the sons of his sister, Fanny. Davis lived several years more, reaching the age of seventy-seven. Both men are buried in Colma, California, but their legacy lives in on the Levi Strauss & Co. brand of clothing.


It’s Your Turn: Were you aware that the iconic brand of Levi’s was the actual beginning of the blue jean garment? Did you realize that it went back to the 1870s?


Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies.



Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today! I'm actually surprised that jeans were only traced back to the 1870's. I didn't realize that Levi Strauss was the first to patent the style. I'm very thankful that he paid attention to Mr. Davis!